Wednesday, July 29, 2009

One Reason I'm Proud of Hickory


Hickory is not known as a Mecca of the arts. We do okay for a city of roughly 35,000. But we have no professional theater or dance troupe, no recording or movie studios. In fact, we don’t even have a large performance venue like our closest neighbors in Lenoir and Morganton.

And yet, as I travel to poetry readings and writers’ conferences across the state, I run into one widely published poet after another who wants to come to Hickory to participate in Poetry Hickory. Why, you might ask, do such literary notables want to drive from places like Asheville or Raleigh or Charleston, SC, to participate in a reading series that doesn’t pay and is held in a small coffee shop with no more than cafĂ© seating for about 60 people?

The answer is because poets need an audience. There are few, if any, material rewards for writing poetry today, so poets thrive on the sense that they’re being heard, that they’re having some sort of impact, making some sort of difference, and that their efforts are appreciated by the relatively small body of contemporary poetry readers. I’m proud to say that those who attend Poetry Hickory deliver all this and more.

I’ve been to dozens of readings in bigger cities like Asheville, Raleigh, Charleston, and Charlotte and except for readings on college campuses, the audience has been consistently larger here, consistently more attentive, and consistently more appreciative. These qualities have helped put Hickory on the poetry map in NC. Readers so far this year have come from all the cities named above as well as Mt. Olive, Goldsboro, Mebane, and Laurens, SC, and have published a total of 55 books.

Poetry Hickory is held at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory on the second Tuesday of each month. Each event begins at 6:30 with three “Open Mic” readers (meaning anyone who wants to can do so) who are followed by two featured writers (writers who have published at least one book or a large number of individual pieces). Recently, a writers’ networking group, called simply Writers’ Night Out, also began meeting at Tasteful Beans at 5:00 prior to each reading. These meetings have consistently had 10 to 13 participants ranging in age from 16 to 80 and including both writers who are unpublished and writers who are widely published. The group even includes three magazine editors, one of whom drives from Charlotte, another from Winston-Salem. Jessie Carty, the editor from Charlotte, has even begun recording Poetry Hickory and putting excerpts on YouTube as part of her The Shape of a Box journal.

On August 11, Chapel Hill poet, Sara Claytor, and Charlotte poet, Ann Campanella, will be featured at Poetry Hickory’s 24th reading, and I know two things about that evening already: both poets will be glad they came, and I will be proud to say I’m from Hickory. For more information about Poetry Hickory, contact me at

Friday, July 24, 2009

NC Poetry Book Award Recipient to Visit Poetry Hickory


"Musings" for July 16

On Tuesday, August 11, NC poet, Sara Claytor, will read from her poetry at Poetry Hickory, which is held at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory, starting at 6:30 P.M.

A native Tar Heel and former teacher of literature, writing & communications at various NC universities and public school systems, Claytor holds two graduate degrees from UNC. She has been the recipient of numerous poetry prizes, including most recently a runner-up in the Poetry Council of North Carolina’s Oscar Arnold Young Book Competition for the best book of poetry from the state for her new collection from Main Street Rag, Howling on Red Dirt Roads. She will be honored for that award at Poetry Day to be held at Catawba College on October 10.

Claytor’s fiction and poetry have appeared in over 100 publications, including: New Press Literary Quarterly; Miller’s Pond; California Quarterly; Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies; Spire; The Crucible; The Pedestal Magazine; The Savannah Literary Journal. In addition to her teaching, she has worked as fiction editor for a small press specializing in mystery-suspense and as co-editor of the former Internet literary journal The Moonwort Review.

Howling on Red Dirt Roads is her second collection of poetry. Pudding House Publications published her chapbook REVIVING THE DAMSEL FISH in 2007. The poem below is reprinted from that collection.

Double Layers

older women need light,
light from windows
light in rooms
light warming their faces
on layered pewter days
when they search the sky
remembering rain and wind,
previous storms that flattened
Iris beds, splintered limbs
from oak trees, littering their
lives with debris

older women need time,
time to read Proust
time to sort photos
time to gaze at moths
waltzing in midnight ecstasy
under floodlights on charcoal nights
when their thoughts,
like water spattering stone,
quiver in the clutter of unrequited passions

older women need fire,
fire from burning bones
fire from urgent memories
fire surging into their stretched skins
when they step from back porch stairs
onto leaves like wet sponges,
twisted branches with jagged teeth
that scrape their shins,
to survey storm damage,
seek the pieces of their lives
left behind

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Interview with Jessie Carty

Jessie Carty is the author of a collection of poetry entitled At the A and P Meridiem and editor of a unique YouTube literary journal called Shape of a Box. She is a graduate of the Queens University creative writing program and currently lives in Charlotte. Her poetry has been widely published and on Tuesday, July 14, she will be a featured reader along with Margaret Boothe Baddour at Poetry Hickory, held at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory at 6:30 PM. I sat with her recently and asked her a few questions in preparation for her reading. Here is that interview.

Owens: "Shape of a Box" is the only literary journal on YouTube that I'm aware of. Where did you get the idea to do a YouTube journal?

Carty: During most of 2008 I was toying with the idea of starting a literary magazine, but I wasn't sure what format I wanted to work in. I wanted to do something "different". I originally thought I would publish an online magazine but I just had this light bulb kind of moment where I decided to consider putting video and poetry together. I was already a fan of YouTube so I started searching for poets. I found a lot of poets working on their own but I found no evidence of an actual literary magazine that published on YouTube (there are a few lit mags that have content up, such as their open mike events). The idea just stuck and "Shape of a Box" was born!

Owens: What has been the highlight for you of the first year of "Shape of a Box?" And where do you see the magazine going from here?

Carty: The highlight of working with "Shape of a Box" has been the variety of work I've been given the opportunity to read. There is so much talent out there! Putting together weekly issues of "Shape of a Box" has been very time consuming. I think for my second year I am going to move the magazine to a monthly publication. I will have reading periods once a month (for about two weeks) and then one issue a month that will be a longer video than the ones up now which may include work by more than one writer in a given issue.

Owens: What was your inspiration for the structure of your book, "At the A and P Meridiem"?

Carty: I wrote the poem "7pm" for my very first MFA workshop. I was having trouble titling it and chose 7pm because I felt the poem just had this feeling of that time of the day. The poem was well received and I had been trying to put together a chapbook when I thought, hmm, a poem for each hour of the day could work well in a chapbook. I then went back through poems I had written and discoverd I had quite a few that could fit an hour of the day so the process began.

Owens: Do you see the poems in "At the A and P Meridiem" as a coherent unit? Aside from the controlling motif of the hours, how are they thematically linked or what story do they tell when placed together?

Carty: I find the poems in "At the A and P Meridiem" to be a coherent unit in the sense that they are all looking into the specificity of a moment. In some sense the poems are like a montage of a day, as if you were looking through each window in an apartment building, the speakers are somehow connected by more than just the time of the day but by their proximity to each other. I think the poems link to each other in how, I hope, my readers can relate to the emotion of a moment, of an individual event.

Owens: So, is there a message in "At the A and P Meridiem," something you'd like the reader to realize or conclude?

Carty: I'd like for people to read "At the A and P Meridiem" and come away with the sense that we are all very much alike despite the diverse ways we live the hours of our lives.
Owens: Why poetry? Why do you write it, and why do you seek to publish it?
Carty: I really can't remember a time when I wasn't interested in poetry. I apparently made up poems before I could even write about things such as dandelions (a plant I still find fascinating even if other people insist on calling it a weed). I've tried other genres but they just do not work for me. I am a poet. I love the music of how words work against each other. To me, being a poet is writing from each word to the next, so writing poems is where I belong. I think a certain amount of seeking publication is to validate myself as a writer, but I really just like the idea that someone might connect with one of my poems in they way that I have connected with the work of other poets. Writing and reading poetry is all about understanding yourself and others through words. Who doesn't love a good Ah-ha moment?

Owens: This interview is being written for a newspaper audience in Hickory, NC. As a poet and "poetry advocate," is there anything you'd like to say to that audience?

Carty: Hickory is such an amazing town. I commuted to work in Hickory (1 hour each way) for 5 years, simply because I liked the people I worked with. I think the people of Hickory might be surprised at the wealth of writers and artists in their community but with articles like this and events like Poetry Hickory, hopefully, the people of the Catawba Valley area will get out there and support some of their local artists!

Life's Panorama in Poetry: A Micro-review of Margaret Boothe Baddour's Scheherazade

Life’s Panorama in Poetry: A Micro-review of Margaret Boothe Baddour’s Scheherazade
“Musings” for July 2

The title poem of Margaret Boothe Baddour’s new collection of poetry, Scheherazade (St. Andrews Press), is an allusion to the Persian classic One Thousand and One Nights, source of such familiar stories as Sinbad, Ali Baba, and Aladdin. Scheherazade is the main character of the “frame story” of this ancient collection. Her character is the narrator for all of the other stories, as she fends off a royally-decreed assassination each night by telling a new story. Not surprisingly, the stories she tells run the gamut of human experience.

So it is with Baddour’s poetry. Alternately funny and tragic, personal and political, literal and metaphysical, honest and sublime, the poems are at once hauntingly familiar and powerfully unique. Rich in memorable imagery, approachable narrative, and sincere emotion, Baddour crafts a collection that any reader will find pleasurable and meaningful.

To illustrate these points, I’m reprinting two very different poems from Scheherazade. The first is a clear example of the gravity her poems can convey; the second of its frequent levity.

No Bloodshed During Snowfall

“The snow dusted neighborhoods Shiite and Sunni alike, faintly falling, as James Joyce wrote, like the descent of their last end, the living and the dead . . . . A flurry is a swift and passing joy.”
--Associated Press, January 12, 2008

The long-haired Filipino kid with dolorous eyes
sits up front with me. Two more and a small Chinese girl,
Suk Li, called Shirley, ride in back.
We have feasted
on Lebanese food at Neo Monde--kibi, tabooly, laban--
and studied together for hours at the Museum of Art:
Roman torsos, Egyptian heads, African masks,
Melanesian pipes, a Wyeth house, an O’Keeffe church,
a modern collage of gun, funnel, barbed wire and rocks,
early American portraits. “Those men--“ Shirley pointed
to three be-wigged people on the wall “--look like--
your Founding Fathers?” The black security guard
has taken our laughing picture before a mobile with flowers
and butterflies shaped like a fighter plane.
Now the radio says
that it has snowed in Baghdad after eighty years. We pass
a row of crabapple trees blooming deep pink in January.
“A flurry is a swift and passing joy.”

Ravages of the D&L Tree Service, Mercenaries, Insured

No novocain could dull me
from these tree men and their trampling feet.
No doors deafen me
from electric handsaw, yellow grinder
that chew and spew
a tossed salad of branches, leaves and bird nests.
These tree men swarm
over the grass like soldiers of fortune.
They scatter debris.
Their great boots stamp both lilies and petunias.
To tame a tree
they dig in their spikes like deadly cowboys.
They gulp ice water.
They drag amputated limbs across the lawn.

And when they go:
an absence of noise--a space, a vacuum
graver than their presence.
Where the pine tree once dripped wisteria:
the stump wet with sap.
Sawdust spatters the broken ground.
The dogwood, the tulip tree
the quince bushes flip their leaves in the evening air
while I grieve
for what I chose to lose and now
must live without.

Baddour will be a featured reader along with Jessie Carty at Poetry Hickory on Tuesday, July 14 at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory starting at 6:30.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Poems by Jenni Conklin

“Musings” for June 25, 2009

Today I’m featuring the work of Jeni Conklin, a senior in the Challenger Early College High School program housed at CVCC, who wants to study illustration at Rhode Island School of Design. Jeni was in my creative writing class at CVCC last semester, and it didn’t take her long to establish herself as one of the best and most unique writers in the class. In fact, her work became so strong that several of her poems were published in Wild Goose Poetry Review.

Sleight of Hand Tricks for Those Who Have Bad Eyesight

ginger boys in summer time
keep you going with
long hair and long strides
leaving you on the front lawn
the grass prickly
their fingers long
one by one they leave you
one by one they leave you
ginger boys in the fall
keep you going with
clipped words, clipped hair
leaving you at their doorstep
the carpets soft and lonely
their limbs stretch for miles
one by one they leave you
one by one they leave you

Lonely City

Behind the screen door
he stands, squinting into the sun as it comes up
white paint chipping
off the front porch
split lip healing from the
fight in the parking lot of the Winn Dixie
dow the road
freckles peeling off his shoulders.
She packed her secrets
into the cut in his lip
sealed it with a kiss
and ran off with the boy who
won the fight.

Dead and Gone

You said,
“I’m the type of girl who can handle herself.”
I nodded.
You left a coffee cup
on the inside of the window.
When I drive by
I can see it
and I think of how you
left trails wherever you went
in the house
how you never slept
under the sheets
how you never kept
any of your secrets.